Horror & Dark Fantasy

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017

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Nonfiction

Author Spotlight: Clive Barker

Clive Barker was not available for interview, so in lieu of our usual Author Spotlight format, instead we present you with this brief appreciation of the man’s life and career by R.J. Sevin.—eds.

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During the mid-eighties, drugstore spin-racks and bookstore shelves were heavy with horror. The multi-media success of Stephen King had generated an industry, and in the world of publishing, mass market terror ruled. Many of the book covers looked the same, and the talent exhibited within ranged from laughable to sublime. The name of the Maine man was, whenever possible, emblazoned across the cover of books that had nothing to do with him: King pull-quotes—either blurbs comparing the author to King or the praise of King himself—were everywhere. And they sold books: “‘I have seen the future of horror and his name is Clive Barker’—Stephen King.”

Some folks were lucky enough to have discovered The Books of Blood during their initial publication, but most of us found out about this Clive Barker guy because of that quote, which was taken out of context anyway and eventually got whittled down to “ . . . the Future of Horror . . . ”

Whether or not Barker actually was the future of horror is discussion for another time. What matters is this: King’s words tilted a spotlight upon a talent that, many would argue, was far greater than any mere genre.

Considering the opening salvo that is The Books of Blood (1984-1985), it’s easy to see why one could easily assume that Clive Barker was here to redefine horror fiction. The Damnation Game (1985), Cabal (1985), The Hellbound Heart (1986)—these are violent, challenging, revolutionary pieces of fiction. The stories they tell, while rooted deeply in horror, indicate a concern on the part of the author with the mythic. There were haunted houses and there were vampires, but they were so utterly re-envisioned that they’re pretty much unrecognizable. They’re larger. They encompass more.

They point to big things.

Published in 1987 and bursting at the seams with horror and magic, Weaveworld—a tale of a lost civilization living within the weave of an ancient rugfirmly established Barker as an author who encompassed and defined horror while transcending it. Two years later, The Great and Secret Show transported Barker’s burgeoning narrative magic from foggy Liverpool to the heart of America, smearing horror and fantasy and science fiction together like clay. Or paint on a taut canvas.

While Barker’s fiction caught on, the movies came calling. Transmutations (1985) and Rawhead Rex (1986) came and went with no impact, followed shortly by Hellraiser (1987). This was no work-for-hire screenplay. This was no half-baked adaptation of a short story. This was Clive Barker writing and directing a film version of his own novella, The Hellbound Heart.

By the late eighties, horror cinema had come to be defined by franchises. And personalities. Thanks to Freddy Krueger, silent stalkers like Michael Myers or Jason Voorhes were no longer quite as exciting.

Taking advantage of the zeitgeist while totally ignoring its traps and pitfalls, Barker took a background player from his novella and fashioned it into, quite simply, one of the coolest looking movie monsters. Ever.

Despite the artful nature of Barker’s original film, Hellraiser happened because of its franchise potential, and while other filmmakers ran pinhead into the ground, Clive Barker focused his cinematic energies elsewhere. His second film, Nightbreed (1990) had a troubled production and was not seen in its intended form until recently, when video elements thought lost enabled the assembly of Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut, a recreation of Barker’s original edit of the film. Barker’s third—and, to date, last—film was Lord of Illusions, an adaptation of his short stories, “Lost Souls” and “The Last Illusion,” that expands heavily on the source material while appropriating imagery from other stories from The Books of Blood.

Leaving Bernard Rose to write and direct, Barker produced Candyman, an adaptation of “The Forbidden” (Books of Blood 5/In The Flesh). Like Hellraiser before it, Candyman rode a trend into new, deeper territory. Released a week before Dr. Giggles pretty much put the nail in the “we need a new Freddy” coffin, Candyman emerged as not only one of the most respected horror films of that era but of all time—a true work of American Gothic, and arguably the last great American horror film.

Completed just before Barker moved from London to Los Angeles and released in 1991, Imajica delivered on the literary promise of all that had come before—horror, romance, passion, eroticism, lyrical prose and protean imagery: the exploration of our past, our faith, our filth, our collective dreams. It’s all there, larger than ever, and it is with Imajica that it became clear that, with each passing work, Clive Barker’s canvas was growing larger and larger.

As can only be expected from a book that takes the reader into the presence of Jehovah Himself, the following novels—Sacrament, Galilee, Coldheart Canyon, Everville—were somewhat smaller in scope, though not by much.

In 1992, Barker released the Thief of Always, his first children’s novel. Ten years later, he returned to YA fiction with Abarat, a sprawling adventure for all ages originally projected to encompass four volumes and growing to a projected five volumes instead. Profusely illustrated with Barker’s lavish oil paintings, the Abarat series may yet emerge as his finest work.

Beyond Abarat, The Scarlet Gospels looms—a reportedly massive narrative that pits Harry D’amour, the demon-hunting P.I. from Barker’s contribution to this month’s issue, against Pinhead.

“It is a complex book,” Barker recently stated on his Facebook page, “interweaving many lives, many journeys. The most controversial of those journeys will take us back to Bethlehem, on the night of the Nativity. No Biblical Testament dares recount what really happened on that night. That task falls to The Scarlet Gospels.”

Another task that falls to The Scarlet Gospels: the collision—the intermingling—of the worlds of Barker the novelist with those of Barker the filmmaker. On the pages of The Hellbound Heart, Pinhead is little more than a vague suggestion—on screen, he is commanding, indelible. He is iconic. He was born on the page but defined on the silver screen, and in the pages of The Scarlet Gospels he will make his first appearance in his father’s prose . . .  and he will meet his end. (And just try to not see Scott Bakula as Harry D’Amour.) The Scarlet Gospels has no release date, and Barker has recently gone on the record to state: “The Scarlet Gospels is in large part written, but I can’t find the six months it will take to complete it until I have finished with Abarat.”

We needn’t wait long for a new release, though: Chiliad, a novella originally published in the little-seen anthology, Revelations (1997, edited by Douglas E. Winter), will be published in 2014 and is described by Barker as being perhaps his most intimate work.

In recent years, Barker’s failing health has caused his admirers much concern. He spent eleven days in a coma in February of 2012, following a dentist appointment that resulted in blood poisoning. Weathered but determined, the man himself forges ahead—recovering, writing and painting and creating; developing comic books and video games and films, interacting with his followers nearly every day on Facebook and putting the finishing touches on Abarat IV: The Prince of Dreams.

“I did not enjoy my coma experience at all,” Barker recently told his readers, “so I’m going to stay in the Land of the Living for the next twenty or thirty years.”

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R.J. Sevin

R.J. Sevin (photo by Donovan Fannon)R.J. Sevin is the co-editor of the Stoker-nominated anthology Corpse Blossoms and he currently edits Print Is Dead, the zombie-themed imprint from Creeping Hemlock Press. His nonfiction has appeared in Cemetery Dance, Dark Discoveries, Fear Zone, Famous Monsters of Filmland Online, and Tor.com.